Origin of Idly

Simple dish Idly has been in controversy regarding the origin.

Idly in literature
‘iddalige’, first mentioned in a Kannada work Vaddaradhane of Sivakotyacharya in 920 AD. The Sanskrit Manasollasa of 1130 AD has ‘iddarika’. Tamil apparently only first mentions ‘itali’ in the 17th century.

Gujarati origin
Gujarat have IDADA which is steamed dhokla made from same ingredients as Idly.Namely Urad dhaal and Rice which are fermented overnight and next day steamed.Gujarathis claim Idaly is a dish which came to south from Gujarat during 10/12th century AD.when lot of silk weavers from saurashtra came to south via Maharashtra.The dukkia is first mentioned in AD 1068 in Gujurathi Jain literature, and dhokla appears in AD 1520 in the Varanaka Samuchaya. Besan flour is fermented overnight with curd, and steamed in slabs which are then cut into pieces and dressed with fresh coriander leaves, fried mustard seeds and coconut shreds. A coarser version is khaman and both are popular breakfast and snack foods in Gujurat. But we have to note that Gujart was ruled by chalukyas and Rastrakutas for many centuries before that and Idada may be from iddalige. Since we dont find references to that before that.

Indonesia origin
Acharya notes:the use of rice grits along with urad dhal,the long fermentation of the mix, and the steaming of the batter to fluffiness. Only after 1250 AD are there references to what seem to be idlis as we know them. Achaya’s contention is that this absence from the historical record could mean that idlis are an imported concept — perhaps from Indonesia which has a long tradition of fermented products, like tempeh (fermented soy cakes), kecap (from where we get ketchup) or something called kedli, which Achaya says, is like an idli. This is plausible enough given the many links between Southeast Asia and South India, through rulers and traders. Acharyra also adds many legendary stories ,but there is no basis for them. When we look forward to literary evidences in Indian literature , Acharya does not give any in Indonesia.
Heuan tsang says no steaming vessels south india in seventh century.But steaming vessels are not required for steaming dishes , steam can be produced using cloth over the vessel, still this method is used in south India.

Karnataka origin
Vaddaradhane by Shivakoti Acarya ( Rashtrakoota times)of the 10th century names Iddalige ( Idli ), Holige (Poli) and Savige ( Vermicelli). The 12th century encyclopedia Manasollaasa of Somashekhara Ballala III (Kalyani Chalukya) is a veritable treasure house of recipes and cooking styles. Lets not forget that these were empires with catholic tastes and wide trading hinterlands.

Tulu and kannada dishes
Many old words appearing in the Vaddaradhane,but extint now in modern Kannada, are existing still in Tulu even now.Like "muttukadi","baikam"(Baikampadi) etc. Hale(Old) Kannada and Tulu shared many words. They also should have shared rice dishes like iddli(<-iddalige). We are handicapped by the absence of Tulu texts dating back to 10th C. AD or older ones.Compare this with the numerous leaf based steam cooked Tulu rice dishes similar to iddli in technology.However it is difficult to trace the antiquity of these leaf-wraped precursors of iddlis. Since,leafy vessels are more primitive designs than the more modern iddli cooking vessels, Tulu disheslike moode,gunda,kotte etc., can be said to be actual ancestors of the modern iddlis.

The first appearance of the term in the literature need not mean the origin of the dish around that time, so the origin of this delicious dish has to be karnataka. So Idli is defintely a Karnataka dish.


  1. dear sir,

    Your posting indeed reflects my belief about origin of Idli, Dhokra and such.

    I want to quote you in my blog on food.
    Can I please? I will give credits to your posting .

    Thanks in advance

    Hemant Trivedi

  2. Cool Hemant

    Be My guest

  3. I am an Indonesian. Various sources on the Internet mention that fermentation has not been popular in Indian cuisine since a long time ago. Can you please mention other Indian food which involves fermentation other than idli? Well, it will be ridiculous to have an idea that India introduced fermented food to Indonesia. What happened is vice versa. The technique of fermentation came to Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries thanks to Chinese traders who introduced tofu (fermented soy batter), ketchup (originally fermented fish sauce), and fermented soy cake 2000 years ago. Interestingly in case of soy bean fermentation, Javanese people in Indonesia developed their own leavening agent, the Rhizopus mold, to suit with the tropical climate which later functions as the basis of making tempeh, Indonesian soy cake. The word ketchup is from Malay word kecap (same pronunciation) borrowed when the British occupied Malaysia in the 17th century and the change of ingredient into tomato followed later in the modern USA. The idea that modern idli is based on Indonesian recipe makes sense. Although in Indonesia we have lost kedli, something we don’t even know its existence, Indonesians do have a traditional fermented rice cake called kue mangkok (bowl cake). It is named so because it is steamed actually in various shapes of small cups, not bowls, involves rice batter, fermentation, and steaming. So, Indonesian cuisine has been familiar with fermentation for centuries in food such as tofu, kecap, tempeh, and kue mangkok. What do you think?

    1. I am sure Fermentation existed in Indonesia before Chinese introduced it. Fermentation is not such a complex process to be see how it originated. There are lot of fermented food in India as well. I have cited the fermented foods in Karnataka.

      The article here is about origin of the dish Idli. I am not talking about origin of fermented food. We have fermented food in India since time immemorial. Only question was mixing the dhal - rice in particular proportion, fermenting and steaming. It is a simple dish consumed in south India daily. The origin of this dish is indigenous not borrowed from anywhere, to become so widespread. We have literature reference to similar dishes in 10th century AD in Kannada Literature. That is the point I am making here.

  4. Thank you for your response but you missed the facts proposed by Dr. KT. Achaya. It seems you skipped the most important points (is it on purpose?). Here is a source from the Internet as quoted from his book:

    The Sanskrit Manasollasa of 1130 AD has ‘iddarika’, but again made from urad dhal flour only. It actually describes iddarika as made of fine urad flour fashioned into small balls and then spiced with pepper powder, cumin powder and asafoetida. In Karnataka, a century later, the idli is described as being 'light, like coins of high value.'.
    In Tamil, the ' itali' makes only a late appearance, in 17 th century AD (in Maccapuranam).

    All these references, Achaya notes, leave out three key aspects of idlis: “the use of rice grits along with urad dhal; the long fermentation of the mix; and the steaming of the batter to fluffiness.”

    Another reason purported in favour of idlis immigration is the lack of steaming vessels in India in 7 th century AD. Remember Xuan Zang, whose exploits we had to painfully mug up during our history classes, was categorical in stating that India did not have a steaming vessel.

    If fermentation has existed in India since a long time ago, why did Dr. Achaya not point it out related to the history of idli? Why did he not put his assumption of the origin of idli to Indian native region? You said your article doesn't discuss fermented food but it has been the basic requirement of making idli. It's better you challenge the reputation of Dr. Achaya by writing similar book or defensive articles describing the fermentation technique and the steaming vessel indigenous to India.

    1. ‘iddalige’, first mentioned in a Kannada work Vaddaradhane of Sivakotyacharya in 920 AD. The Sanskrit Manasollasa of 1130 AD has ‘iddarika’.
      I have given all the points, where does skipping occur

      So Iddalige is found in 10th century AD in karnataka. The Manasollas author is a chalukya emperor, he is also kannada. Where does the question of found after a century in Karnataka Arise.

      You are talking about making of Idly. But Kedli does not have urad dal, so there is no question of Idly from Kedli.

      Regarding Steaming vessels, it is not required to have steaming vessels to make steam, You can make steam by just covering the mouth of the vessel with cloth.

      You are talking as though fermentation is a industrial process, you just leave the rice(or flour) in water overnight it gets fermented. Karnataka is so wet due to rain forests especially during monsoon. So it is very difficult to keep it dry. So naturally it will be fermented. Your thinking Indians did not know fermentation is really funny.

      I don't have to write a book to challenge acharya, this blog is enough

      Now let us see your logic closely. What are the evidence you provide for your case.

      What is the evidence that fermentation was found in Indonesia- None
      What is the evidence that Kedli found in Indonesia - None
      Any literary evidence for either fermentation or Kedli - None

      So I can see that Kedli came from Idly. Not the other way around. Because the existence of Idly is found in Literature, nothing has been found on Kedli. Prove first kedli existed and Fermentation existed in Indonesia.

  5. Really great blog you have here. I am amazed at the amount of research that you have done. Continue the great work and bust more myths.

  6. Are there any evidences to suggest food,clothing(evolution) of todays karnataka in olden days say from 6th century till now. Please post if any

    1. There is no study as such to give everything on the platter to you, if you are looking for such article.

      You will find plenty of sculptures of satavahanas, Kadambas, Chalukyas, Rastrakutas, Hoysala, Vijayanagar, Mysore. You can see how they are dressed. Both Royalty and Others.

      As far as food. we have to go by literature, Kannada, prakrit, sanskrit.

  7. Hi, there were hundreds of verities existed in tulunad and still exists, rich ayurvedic medicinal plants, nature related food, like banana leaf, turmeric leaf, jack fruit leaves, and many more,,... these leaves are used to prepare idli, dosa, items. Tuluvas are lover of food. they live for food. And they are lover of nature protect it. Origin of Idly, dosa in tulunad only. Nowadays very few food like idly and dosa found other than tulunad. But if you visit and inquire tulunad, you will get all many peculiar food which many of us never heard of. But as time goes, modern tuluvas never going to learn ( not all ) old culture. Tuluvas like rice, they can play with rice and can prepare any type of food using rice. And even fruits like jackfruits are used for number of varieties of food. Ancient tuluvas were using modern techniques like steam to boil, and preserving vegetables ( like cucumber ) for 2 to 5 years without spoiling it. and keeping meat and other food for a week in olden days. So refrigerator were not there and not needed. even tuluvas knew many modern techniques like making hybrid of vegetables, fruits. There were hundreds of verities of fruits were there olden days. Even tuluvas had good knowledge in cropping ( rice ). verities of rice were found in olden days. When comes to language. As you said, many kannada words are found in tulu language. But this is because of kannada medium is compulsory in tulunad. They are forcing to learn kannada and tulu is dying. No roof for Tulu. Ancient time tulu was independent of sanskrit and even today many more modern words are found in tulu. I will give you example: This year: EEYOD, previous year: MOOVOD, year befor previous year: MUNNOD, Nomenclature is very rich in tulu. Tuluvas named for years also. And if you take humans as example. In humans, child, teen, young, old: these type of divisions are there and other language also have these., But in tulu, for animals, birds also they have wordings. For example: kanji( child buffalo) paarolu ( young female virgin buffalo), yerme( female buffalo became mother), godderme ( female buffalo which is having delivery problem, can't have child) and many other words which i don't know as it is almost extint and karnataka is not going to protect because it thinks that if tulu is grown then kannada will die. If we study deep into tulu, it will brings us to olden dravida time. Modern malayalam scripts are ancient tulu scripts. Even tulu also have many pecurial vowels which are not there in other languages. There are 17 vowels and many extra consonants there. Today if we demand to add tulu to 8th constitution, no one will support, even corrupt politicians not going to protect tulu,. Today tulu culture like NEMA/KOLA/THEYYAM, kalaripayattu became culture of kerala and kerala became gods own country. and even karnataka is using tuluva talents to show up identity of karnataka, both states will say that tuluva culture is theirs. There are never ending story of culture/food/medicine/proverbs/literacy/agricultural technologies. traditions.


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